The Knowledge Gap

I don’t want to draw attention away from the post below. Read it, too. But that’s why I’ve hidden this one behind a jump. But don’t let that stop you from reading this one, either. Read it all! Just remember there’s two new posts tonight. We’re busy.

Don’t worry, this isn’t a post about the Ubyssey. But in a way it is. See some people, including Gina, have taken the Ubyssey to task for what they see as shoddy reporting on campus affairs. My opinion is slightly different. Would I prefer them to be a more campus-centered paper? Of course – if they don’t, who else will? (I draw a distinction, though, between covering AMS minutiae and campus affairs; the latter are important, the former far less so.)

But my issue with the Ubyssey isn’t really an issue about the Ubyssey, it’s about the campus political machinery as a whole. However, I’ll use the paper as an example. See it’s my sense that those who write the paper don’t have enough of a knowledge base to adequately cover what’s important – heck, they don’t have enough knowledge to know what’s important in the first place. It’s really hard to cover, say, the development of a new campus plan or the OCP, MCP, MOU, or amendments thereto without already knowing what all those are, what they mean, and how they inter-relate.

Now be honest – who here actually knows what they all mean? My guess is there’s maybe ten students who do.

Let’s be clear – I don’t fault them. It’s a very rational ignorance. The required information is very high-cost – it takes significant energy to educate yourself to even the baseline degree necessary to understand these things. And to someone who’s a student, has a zillion other things, it’s just not worth it. It really isn’t.

I also don’t think it’s just the Ubyssey. I think the vast majority of the student political world is the same way. The vast majority don’t have the baseline understanding of how development politics work – they just don’t like big buildings. Most don’t understand the budgetary process or Policy 72, but don’t like when tuition goes up. Again, I don’t fault this (much).

Why? Because nobody’s taken the time to educate them. This information is very high-cost, relatively inaccessible. To get all the background info is difficult enough – to synthesize it into accessible forms without dumbing it down is a challenge unto itself. We’re all students with lots on our plates.

So what’s the solution? It’s for those who know the stuff to get out there, spread the word. Produce the one-sheets, the backgrounders, make sure there’s a baseline level of knowledge that’s far more broad than the AMS executive offices. (Don’t think all student politicians have this. Far from it.) There’s so much knowledge and information tucked away in our brains, and it’s just going to waste up there. Also, don’t assume our constituents (and readers) don’t care. They do – nobody’s just ever told them why these things are important. (“They spend your fees” doesn’t make the AMS important, by the way… get a better answer.)

My humble suggestion: if you’re rich in knowledge, spread it far and wide, and don’t chide those whose knowledge level isn’t up to yours. And if your knowledge level ain’t so great, listen and learn from those who’ve done the legwork. Ask! There’s a good chance they’re willing to talk.


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